Software makers team up on new standardized Linux

Four small Linux vendors have joined together to create a new Linux Standard Base 2.0-compliant binary set that they hope will attract independent software vendors and hardware makers to port their wares to the new code.

In an announcement Wednesday, Conectiva SA, MandrakeSoft SA, Progeny Linux Systems Inc. and Turbolinux Inc. said they will share the core binaries in an effort to gain wider use of their products.

Ian Murdock, chief strategist and co-founder of Indianapolis-based Progeny and a founder of the Debian open-source project, said the idea is to help reduce incompatibilities for users by building a code base that’s compliant with the Linux Standard Base 2.0 specifications. “The four companies realize that the Linux platform core is a commodity” and that they should compete with each other geographically in the areas in which they already have a presence, he said.

The four companies have created the Linux Core Consortium to organize the effort and build the standardized Linux core. They plan to pool their development efforts to create and maintain a common Linux distribution core based on the Free Standard Group’s LSB 2.0 standard.

The LSB was created to develop and promote standards to increase the compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant system. The four companies will build their products on top of this common core as part of their development process, with release cycles of 18 to 24 months.

The common core is scheduled to be available in the first quarter of 2005 and will be incorporated into Conectiva Enterprise Server, MandrakeSoft Corporate Server, Progeny Componentized Linux and Turbolinux Enterprise Server.

Individually, the companies don’t have the clout and customer base to attract strong independent software vendor and hardware vendor interest, Murdock said. But by working together, they hope that will change. “It’s really a win-win for everyone,” he said.

The move is reminiscent of the UnitedLinux effort that brought Curitiba, Brazil-based Conectiva and Tokyo-based Turbolinux together with SUSE Linux AG and the former Caldera International Inc. (now The SCO Group Inc.) to try the same idea back in May 2002.

But UnitedLinux largely came undone after Lindon, Utah-based SCO filed its now-infamous lawsuit against IBM Corp. in March 2003, alleging that IBM illegally contributed some of SCO’s System V Unix code to Linux. Then Tokyo-based Turbolinux underwent ownership changes and largely pulled out of the U.S. market, causing more instability for UnitedLinux. And late last year, Novell Inc. bought SUSE, bringing the Linux company under its wing.

Murdock said the latest effort will incorporate some of the lessons learned from UnitedLinux. “I think it was a great idea that was badly executed,” he said. “In a lot of ways, we’re trying to realize the potential UnitedLinux had.”

The four companies said that their partnership is an open development project and that other interested Linux companies will be encouraged to join. The two largest Linux vendors, Red Hat Inc. and SUSE, have been asked to take part but have declined to do so at this time. Both companies, however, said that they support standardization efforts and the LSB.

Murdock said Red Hat and SUSE may not feel the need to join because the two market leaders already have deals with software and hardware vendors to support their products.

Analysts said the group has its work cut out for it.

“I understand what they’re doing,” said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc. in Westport, Conn. “But without the support of vendors, this effort will have limited success,” because Red Hat and SUSE have already given the software vendors the Linux platforms they need.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., agreed. “It’s really a question of volume,” Haff said. Red Hat and SUSE are the volume Linux distributors, and hardware and independent software vendors want to support only the top one or two Linux brands to avoid diluting their product lines.

“Now these guys are coming in and saying, ‘We want there to be a third one.’ I certainly don’t envision it right now as being a huge interest to the ISVs in the same vein as UnitedLinux,” he said. “I’m skeptical it’s going to make a big difference.”

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